- Oct 26
Over 14 million adults in the United States have alcohol use disorder (AUD), and professional athletes are no exception. The reasons behind this are varied. In many cases, they are thrown into a world of sudden wealth, fame and public scrutiny at too young of an age. When athletes turn to substances to cope, they often create a cycle that can be difficult to escape.
Some of the following athletes were able to find recovery for AUD, while others struggle with it to this day. Keep reading to learn about 18 famous athletes with alcohol addiction.
1. Babe Ruth
Babe Ruth is known as one of the greatest sports players in American history. What many people don’t realize is that he took part in heavy alcohol consumption throughout his professional baseball career, which spanned from 1914 to 1935.
Known as the power-hitting star of the New York Yankees, Ruth began drinking alcohol before he reached his teens. Like other addictions, Ruth’s may have been inspired by a family history of substance use. His mother reportedly had an alcohol addiction and his father was a saloon owner who died in a drunken brawl in 1918.
Even in the prohibition era, Ruth drank excessively, which had an adverse effect on his team. In fact, New York Yankees owner Colonel Jake Ruppert even drew up a contract in 1922 to make him limit his drinking and late-night partying. Ruth ultimately continued his drinking post-career and died in 1948 at just 53.
2. Brett Favre
On the field, Brett Favre was an unstoppable force as a quarterback for the Green Bay Packers. But away from the spotlight, Favre battled a painkiller addiction in the ’90s that later transitioned into a cycle of heavy alcohol intake.
In a 2021 episode of his “Bolling With Favre” podcast, Favre detailed his problems with alcohol addiction — “When I drank, did I drink one beer and go home? I thought, ‘What a waste. Why drink one beer? Why not drink 20?’ That’s a problem.”
Favre’s addiction affected his football career and his relationship with his wife, who encouraged him to seek addiction treatment in 1998. Since then, Favre has been living a sober lifestyle.
3. Miguel Cabrera
While Miguel Cabrera was a successful baseball player, he was an equally heavy drinker. In 2009, he reportedly got drunk between games during a key series between the Detroit Tigers and the Minnesota Twins. When he finally made his way home, Cabrera was involved in a domestic disturbance and had a reported blood alcohol intake level of .26, or more than three times the legal limit. Cabrera was arrested in 2011 for driving under the influence (DUI).
4. Tony Adams
Tony Adams is an English football team manager and former professional player, captaining Arsenal Football Club from 1983 to 2002. Throughout his professional career, Adams won four top flight division titles, three FA Cups and two Football League Cups. Outside the spotlight, however, he had a lengthy battle with alcohol addiction that led to a deep depression.
Adams said in a 2020 interview that he hit rock bottom before accepting help at a treatment center in 1996. He then founded a charity aimed at providing treatment, counseling and support for athletes struggling with addiction and mental health issues. He recently celebrated 25 years of sobriety, making his story one of redemption.
5. Mickey Mantle
Mickey Mantle was a seven-time World Series champion and 20-time MLB all-star who struggled with alcohol use during his playing days in the 1950s and 1960s. Mantle began drinking at an early age, and in a 1994 Sports Illustrated interview, said how he used it as a crutch to overcome his loneliness and shyness in the public eye.
Mantle’s statements attest to how drinking is often used as a way to mask deeper issues, like depression and anxiety. In the same interview, he explained how his drinking likely cut his career short and led to memory loss. Mantle died in 1995 of liver cancer.
6. John Daly
John Daly is a golf star who won the 1991 PGA Championship and the 1995 British Open. Unfortunately, he’s faced many struggles off the green. Daly first entered a treatment center for his heavy alcohol intake at the end of 1992. He’s since divorced several times and relapsed, continuing his battle with substance use to this day.
7. David Feherty
Some golf fans know David Feherty as only the professional golfer. Others know him as the former CBS golf commentator. But fewer people realize the struggles he faced behind the scenes. In a 2015 interview, Feherty opened up about his long history with drugs, alcohol and depression, detailing the extent of his substance issues as all-day Vicodin, whiskey and cocaine use.
Feherty reached sobriety in 2005, expressing how a family history of substance use and undiagnosed mental illness played a role in his struggles. While he temporarily relapsed in 2019 after his son’s fatal overdose, he has been in recovery since. Feherty’s story shows how AUD can be common in families and overlap with other mental health conditions.
8. Charles Barkley
Charles Barkley is well-known as a basketball star, winning two gold medals, 11 All-Star nods and the 1993 MVP award for his contributions. In his personal life, however, he was heavily impacted by heavy alcohol consumption. He made headlines in 2009 when he was arrested for a DUI.
Barkley stated in a 2020 interview, “People thought I drink a lot… because I did… But I had to check myself.” He now says he’s making a conscious effort to reduce his drinking and exercise twice a day. “I can have a bunch of reasons why and excuses. I had to look myself in the mirror and say, ‘Charles, you cannot drink every day and you cannot eat anything that’s not nailed down.’ That’s my personal challenge.”
9. Diego Maradona
Diego Maradona achieved so much in the world of soccer, though battled drug and alcohol addiction that plagued much of his playing years. After a failed drug test in 1997, the soccer star was forced to end his professional career, with his addiction continuing for much of his life until his death in 2020.
Prior to his death, Maradona struggled with several other health problems, including weight issues and heart troubles, which could have been caused by his substance use.
10. Oksana Baiul
Oksana Baiul is among the long list of athletes with alcohol addiction. In 1994, Oksana Baiul was then the second-youngest women’s figure skating champion in Olympic history. When the Ukrainian Gold Medalist was arrested in 1997 on a DUI after crashing her car into a tree, the world took notice.
Fortunately, Baiul’s story is one of a comeback. After the crash, Baiul entered addiction treatment and has been sober since 1998. She even returned to the sport in 2002, becoming inspired to join the Olympic Games once more.
11. Ricky Hatton
Retired English boxer Ricky Hatton rose to fame after beating the then-established force among pound-for-pound fighters in the world, Kosta Tszyu. However, after his defeats to Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao in 2007 and 2009, Hatton opened up about his downward spiral of depression and alcohol and drug use that followed. He said, “In the end, I thought I’ll end up drinking myself to death because I was so miserable.”
After the birth of his daughter, Hatton saw her as a catalyst for getting the help he needed. He ended up seeking therapy, revealing in a 2017 interview, “I ended up going to speak to someone, and getting it off my chest was the way forward for me.” Hatton’s comeback story reveals the importance of therapy in addiction and depression treatment.
12. George Best
George Best was touted as one of the greatest young soccer players of his generation. His record at Manchester United backs this claim, with 137 goals and 361 appearances for the Red Devils. But Best was unable to reach his full potential as his battle with alcohol addiction affected him until his final days.
Doctors found his immune system and liver were significantly impacted by his alcohol consumption, leading to a liver transplant in 2002. In 2005, a kidney infection led to his death at the age of 59.
13. Darren Waller
As Darren Waller was getting drafted to the Baltimore Ravens in 2015, he was in the throes of alcohol addiction. Introduced to pain pills in high school, Waller began misusing them while binge drinking throughout his teen years.
In his first years in the NFL, he failed multiple drug tests and was suspended for the entire 2016 season. Waller then sought inpatient addiction treatment to overcome his addiction. Eleven months later, he was reinstated by the NFL and drafted by the Raiders.
After the 2019 season, Waller founded the Darren Waller Foundation to help kids with similar struggles. He has been sober since 2017.
14. Joe Namath
Former New York Jets quarterback, Joe Namath, discussed his addiction in his autobiography “All The Way: My Life In Four Quarters.” A life without sports at the end of his career caused him to develop AUD, with his high alcohol intake putting his life at risk.
Namath eventually began an outpatient treatment program after one of his moments under the influence was caught on live television. He wrote in his book, “I had embarrassed my friends and family and could not escape that feeling. I haven’t had a drink since… That shame is where I found my strength to deal with the addiction.”
Namath has now been sober for 18 years, living a healthier lifestyle since.
15. Todd Marinovich
Todd Marinovich was raised to play football. His father’s big dreams for his son created an immense level of pressure that was difficult for Marinovich to cope with. The athlete ultimately turned to substance use once drafted into the NFL by the Oakland Raiders in 1991. After failing a drug test, the team held an intervention for the quarterback, sending him to an inpatient treatment center.
At the time, Marinovich admitted he wasn’t ready for treatment, and continued his drug use to escape football and his father’s intense training. After failing another drug test, his football career ended in 1993. In 2016, after police found him wandering a stranger’s yard with drugs, the athlete decided to enter treatment again to overcome his addictions.
Marinovich has since recovered and became an artist, creating paintings, drawings and sculptures.
16. Thurman Thomas
Thurman Thomas was a key part of the Buffalo Bill’s four successive wins in the AFC Championships. The running back later earned his spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and won the 1991 NFL MVP award.
But the spotlight and pressure were ultimately factors leading to his use of alcohol. He admitted in a 2003 interview, “During that time when I was drinking, I wasn’t doing the normal things I would normally do, like check up on the kids before they go to bed. I realized I did have a problem.”
He entered a treatment center that year, though was arrested in 2006 for marijuana possession. Since the incident, Thomas began devoting time to his business, Thurman Thomas Enterprises. His company’s aim is to provide guidance and training to athletes and coaches of all levels.
17. Lamar Odom
Lamar Odom is another example of an athlete who struggled with the pressures of fame. He was drafted by the Los Angeles Clippers in 1999 and eventually named to the All-Rookie First team. After a suspension for violating the league’s drug policy in 2001, he returned to the game.
After moving to the Los Angeles Lakers in 2004, he helped the team win two championships in 2009 and 2010. In 2013, things took a turn when he was arrested for driving under the influence and refusing to submit a chemical drug test. He was later found unconscious following a near-fatal overdose in 2015 and put on life support.
18. Vin Baker
Like most people, the life of former professional basketball player Vin Baker has been full of ups and downs. When the Seattle SuperSonics took on Baker, they won 61 games. But just as Baker was in the prime of his career, he found the mounting success and pressure to be too much.
He admitted in a recent interview, “It was like, I made it. Along with that came the celebration. And I celebrated and celebrated and celebrated almost every day.” Baker also says his high alcohol intake helped mask his anxiety, stating he felt like the “life of the party” with alcohol temporarily relieving the stress of his high-pressure career.
With each celebration and drink, the athlete began drinking more and more. The celebrity lifestyle ultimately led to an alcohol addiction that cost him his All-Star NBA career and million-dollar fortune. For Baker, the path to recovery began with reconnecting to his faith and joining Alcoholics Anonymous.
Today, he’s 12 years sober, and back in the NBA as an assistant coach for the Milwaukee Bucks. Vin Baker’s story is one of hope and redemption, making the athlete an inspiration for many.
Contact Gateway Foundation For Help With Alcohol Addiction
If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol addiction, know you’re not alone. At Gateway Foundation, our compassionate and highly trained health professionals will assist you through recovery. Through holistic and personalized addiction programs, we can help you beat the cycle of addiction and get your life back on track.